I published this post about Mary Todd Lincoln on March 10, 2010. It's had five page views and zero comments. Maybe you can give it some love now.
She was the fourth of seven children. When she was seven-years-old, her mother died in childbirth.
So she lost her mother.
Her father remarried and had nine children with his new wife.
So, in essence, she lost her father.
As a popular and witty young woman who had learned to talk politics, she left her home and much-hated stepmother in Lexington, Kentucky, and moved to Springfield, Illinois, to live with her sister, Elizabeth Edwards. She became engaged to a lawyer, who then changed his mind.
So, she lost her first opportunity to marry the man she loved.
She waited. One and one-half years later the young lawyer changed his mind again and married her. She said he would be President of the United States, and she worked hard to make that happen. When her husband was elected to Congress, she and their young child moved to Washington, D.C., with him--something politician's wives normally did not do--and lived in rented rooms. But she was in the way. She took too much time and attention away from his work. Mother and child returned to Springfield.
So she began to lose her husband to the political life she had helped him attain.
Three of her four sons died - Eddie at home in Springfield, Willie in the White House, and Tad, the youngest and the last person able to comfort her, as they moved from hotel to hotel, never having a real home.
So, she lost her children.
Her husband was elected President as she predicted. He presided over a nation divided by war and had very little time for his wife and her never-ending worries and headaches.
So she lost her husband, almost completely, to government service.
Because she was from the South, her many siblings were Confederates. She staunchly supported her husband and the Union.
So she lost her siblings. Some even died fighting for the South.
Finally, the North won the war. She and her husband went to the theater for an evening of relaxation, and he was assassinated as they sat close together, she clinging to him as they enjoyed the play.
So she lost her husband and her identity because a woman's identity came from what her husband did and he had made her First Lady of the Land.
Her remaining son, Robert, eventually had her declared insane and placed in a sanitarium. He took control of her money.
So she lost her only living son and her freedom.
But she didn't give up. She retained the services of one of the few female lawyers in the country. She managed to engineer her release from the sanitarium and returned to Springfield to live with her sister Elizabeth.
She's remembered as quite the shopaholic. Apparently, she tried to replace her many losses with Things. It didn't work. She bought fine draperies when she had no home in which to hang them. She bought dresses she would never wear because she wore only mourning black. While in the White House, she bought 300 pairs of gloves over a period of a few weeks. Purchases remained in their wrappings, never to be opened.
She shopped out of desperation. Perhaps she was even a hoarder.
What she's not remembered for, because she did not allow reporters to accompany her, are her many charitable acts. She visited sick and wounded soldiers with gifts of fruit and wrote home for them. She and her closest friend and confidante, Elizabeth Keckley--- a former slave--purchased blankets to give to the contraband, who were runaway slaves living in camps near the White House.
Finally, she died, and she rests with her husband and children in their tomb in Springfield, Illinois.
So, she lost the things that never brought the comfort she sought.
But, oh, what she gained.
So sad. Talk about a life filled with loss. But she persevered and still gave back to the community and those in need. I knew quite a few but not all those things about her.ReplyDelete
We continue to learn more about her, thanks, I think, to a feminist perspective. She's no longer looked upon only as the stereotypical, troublesome woman, thanks to modern historians.Delete
Hi Janie - she certainly had a tough life ... what an incredible story. I feel for her ... she must have been amazing helping so many and befriending Elizabeth Keckley, who presumably really helped her and opened her eyes to other slaves with major travails.ReplyDelete
How very difficult - great post ... so interesting ... cheers Hilary
I believe she considered Elizabeth Keckley her closest friend, especially when she was Madam President, the designation she preferred.Delete
What a sad story. I've always read that she went nuts. Even if she did, can anyone blame her?ReplyDelete
I think she was crazy like a fox. She managed to get out of the insane asylum that her son put her in. Now I think we'd say she suffered from abandonment issues and severe, chronic depression.Delete
Oh, such a sad life. :( I didn't know about any of this, interesting read!ReplyDelete
Mary Todd Lincoln was more admired in Washington, D.C., than most people know. Her reputation was sullied by gossip and the way her son, Robert Todd Lincoln, treated her. I've read some stories about him that indicate he was not a nice person.Delete
This will sound so trite, but: you play the hand you're dealt. Some people are too fragile to do that, and Mary seems to be one of those. History deals more kindly with her now; sad that women were seldom able to break from their own bonds in that time.ReplyDelete
She wasn't too fragile to help her husband become president, and later, to escape from a mental institution. I don't think most people respected her right to grieve. When she cried as her husband lay dying, someone said to get her out of the room.Delete
This is so sad. She went through so much and to be treated like that . . . She deserved much better.ReplyDelete
Yes, she did, Murees. If she'd had the kind of therapy and treatment for depression that we have today, it might have helped her some, but nothing takes away the fact of losing three sons in their youth and then the assassination of her husband.Delete
Hi, dear Janie! Thank you for presenting this essay about Mary Todd Lincoln. Her life story reminds us that, as troubled as our lives might be, as much as we have suffered and lost, there is always someone who has suffered and lost more. It also reminds us that we can try to compensate for our losses and fill the emptiness inside by accumulating material possessions (or turning to drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, etc.) or we can choose a more resourceful way - focusing on and helping others in need.ReplyDelete
Thank you again for this thought provoking post, dear friend Janie!
I think she did the best she could under the circumstances. One of the reasons she wanted her husband to be re-elected was so he wouldn't find out how much money she owed to shopkeepers in Washington, D.C.Delete
Thanks for re-posting, Janie. I had no idea about most of this.ReplyDelete
Thank you for visiting, Dixie Dear.Delete
Janie, being an Illinois native, I have read and studied many stories about the Lincoln's, and have visited the Lincoln Library in Springfield. It is phenomenal. She supported him through a very difficult time for his presidency. There are some of her gowns on display at the Lincoln Library, but probably the most impressive display is of the fatalities of the Civil War as it progressed through the states. She lived in an awful time, and she suffered many losses. I thought it was quite something that she got out of the institution despite Robert.ReplyDelete
When I lived near Springfield, I visited the museum twice. I especially liked seeing some of her jewelry.Delete
She was an amazing woman. I was not aware of about half of her ordeals--thanks for the history lesson!!ReplyDelete
You're welcome. You might enjoy reading a book about her.Delete
She was a vain and petty woman, but in my opinion she was sinned against far more than she sinned herself.ReplyDelete
I think the loss of her mother hung over her the rest of her life. People who experience abandonment, even if it's through death and not by choice, seldom recover from it.Delete
This is a great post and not much is known about Mary Lincoln. Even today, not enough is known about compulsive shopping but loss is a big one, so is being sexually molested and abuse. Often compulsive shoppers deal with other issues like depression and anxiety. She suffered great loss and the death of one child can make a woman fall into a great depression but to lose 3 and then her husband dies while sitting right beside him-this must have been all too much to bear.ReplyDelete
What a difficult life she led. I'm surprised and impressed she had the fortitude after everything to retain a lawyer to secure her freedom.ReplyDelete
Looking at the comments, I believe this post got more attention this time around.ReplyDelete
Mary Todd Lincoln certainly had challenges in her life. Losing your mother at a young age was terrible.
Many people would even know her name, I am not one of them I knew who she was but many would not which is sad she had a hard life although many would not think so they would think she was the first lady she must have had a great life but in truth as you said she lost so much.ReplyDelete
Hi Janie..some of this I did know already but I did learn some new things about her. Such a sad existence for her and so much heartbreak/ache. There were a few other First Ladies who lived sad lives. Great post!!ReplyDelete
Wow. That's a lot of loss for one to bear. To become a shopaholic I'd handling it well. I don't think I'd be strong enough to take so much loss.ReplyDelete
I enjoyed this...thank you. I think it's great that she got herself freed from the institution...I wonder why her only remaining son put her there? It seems so cruel.ReplyDelete